BOGACZYK: Williams Wants Best Foot Forward for Future
The Word on the Herd-Aug. 12, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- It’s a fourth-down situation, so to speak. It’s Tyler Williams’ time.
It’s three seasons down for Williams, Marshall’s record-setting, All-Conference USA punter. And he gets to open his final season on Sept. 6 against one of his home-state schools … Purdue, which is the first Big Ten Conference visitor in Herd history.
Williams kicked at the Boilermakers’ Ross-Ade Stadium – only 115 miles from his home – in his fifth collegiate game, botting 51-, 35- and 43-yarders in a 51-41 Herd loss.
Back then, in September 2012, Williams still had a few of those what-might-have-been thoughts about which side of the field he was on.
These days? Uh, there’s no Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too about it.
“They were in-state, a very good school,” Williams said when the subject of him perhaps punting that close to home was dredged up again after a recent Herd camp practice. “Purdue is good academically, and going through high school and with Purdue being known as engineering school, only a handful of guys go there from Fort Wayne.
“Athletics is one thing, but the academics, it’s so hard to get in. I was, ‘I’m not trying to be an engineer; I’m trying to play pro football.’ It wasn’t my best choice. I thought if they had looked at me, I might have walked on there … but it was fun playing up there a few years back, and it will be fun playing them again.”
Williams, who turns 22 on Thursday, took only three years to earn his MU undergraduate degree in marketing – and he was no academic slouch, with a 3.10 GPA. His focus this season – besides “a (College Football) Playoff bowl; that would be nice” – is farther down the road than a postseason game for a third straight Herd season.
It’s the NFL.
Yes, the Oregon-born, Indiana-raised Williams was egregiously left off the preseason watch for the Ray Guy Award that goes to the nation’s top collegiate punter. But if Williams is steaming about the omission, it isn’t going to make him boom I’ll-show-you kicks of 65 yards every fourth down chance.
He knows Coach Doc Holliday and the punter’s special teams coaches – Chuck Heater and Todd Goebbel – want the same thing as Williams does. At one of the Herd’s early August camp sessions, Williams talked up NFL scouts from Kansas City and Minnesota about the future.
“I was just kind ringing their ears on what is the kind of stuff I can do to help (as an NFL prospect),” Williams said. “Coach Holliday and Coach Goebbel and Coach Heater -- all of our guys -- put in so much time on special teams, on our formations. The biggest thing we try to work on that the NFL does is placement of the football, which is easy to notice when you’re punting the ball especially.
“Put it toward a certain sideline to give the return team less of a chance to bring the ball out. So, there’s getting the ball off faster and not let them get to me, put ball where it needs to be and make it easier on our guys to get down there and make the tackle. It’s doing the little things right.
“Don’t kick the ball 80 yards. It’s much better to kick it 45 yards every time – be consistent with it – and make them fair-catch it, no return. Like the NFL guys say, at the end of the day, it’s all about how consistent you are and what you do when it counts … 45-55 is about all you want, because if you’re the guy who hits 65, 65, 35, 45, 70, those inconsistencies make it more difficult on your team.”
And that fits with the Herd mindset. Williams didn’t hesitate when asked how he wants to finish his career this season.
“Personally, it’s ‘Do my job,’” Williams said. “That’s what it’s about around here. Put the ball where it needs to be, make it easier on our return (cover) guys, because on our punt team, we’ve got Evan McKelvey, Devon Johnson, Davonte Allen, D.J. Hunter. We’ve got everyone – we’ve got starters.
“We’ve got guys who rotate off the field and then come in on punt. The last thing they want to do is run 60 yards on a line drive and try to make a tackle. If I can put the ball 45-50 yards and get it fair-caught, it makes everyone’s life easier and helps flip the field, which is what Coach Heater wants, too.
Williams won the punting job as a walk-on freshman in August 2012 camp. By the end of one semester he had the school’s single-season record average (45.19) and a scholarship. He’s only the fifth four-year starting punter in Marshall annals, following Bob Esbaugh (1971-74), Chris Hanson (1995-98), Curtis Head (1999-2002) and Kase Whitehead (2008-11).
Although he was an Indiana All-State punter at R. Nelson Snider High in Fort Wayne, Williams had no scholarship offers. He went to prep school at Atlanta Sports Academy and still got little attention, but took the Herd walk-on invitation and never looked back.
“I kind of thought like that all the way along,” Williams said when asked if his early success at MU gave him more confidence. “I tell everyone this, especially the freshmen who walk on here … You have to come -- and I don’t care who you are or where you’re from – with the mindset that it’s your job to take. I’m going to go where I’m going to go and if you stand in my way then you’re going to get moved.
“So, I came in with the attitude that I was going to win the job, be the best in the conference. That’s what I thought. I know some of that sounds arrogant, cocky, but I don’t think of it like that. It’s just confidence. You’ve got to be confident in what you’re doing and those are the guys that make the next level, the guys who succeed at this level. (Former Herd quarterback Rakeem) Cato was very confident; everyone knew that. Tommy (Shuler) was confident. That’s why they did what they did.
“Rakeem went out and said basically, ‘I don’t care what you do; I’m going to beat you.’ And he did. So, it’s a matter of doing your job, day-in, day-out, and being confident. And the way you build that confidence is do it every day in practice.”
Williams has taken an aggressive route toward his pro football goal. He might be one of college football’s strongest kickers – and not just his leg. The 6-foot, 203-pounder bench pressed 400 pounds in Marshall’s weight room this summer, an increase of 30 pounds from a year earlier.
His 43.7-yard career average – if he sustains it – will be the Herd’s career record. The school record of 43.4 belongs to Pat Velarde (1982-83). And only 51 of Williams’ 141 career punts have been returned, an average of 1.28 per game.
In three seasons, Williams has had 38 punts of 50 or more yards, including nine of 60-plus. He has placed 41 inside the 20, with only 14 touchbacks. His career-long boot was a 66-yarder at Rice in 2012. And his stellar performance in the 2013 Military Bowl was a key to the Herd’s victory over Maryland, as Williams pinned the Terps at their own 1, 5, 1 and 8 among his seven kicks.
He said his early success didn’t necessarily predict for him what would happen as a major college punter.
“I’ve always had kind of high expectations for myself, and I think we all try to do that,” Williams said. “So, I don’t think necessarily that I’ve done more than I thought I would. But I do wish I could have done more. I’m not a guy who brags -- and we all put in time in the weight room -- but I always did my best to stay after, always put in extra work because you don’t want to live with regrets.
“That’s something I’ve learned, so you put the extra time. If it’s like, ‘You know, I’m tired, I don’t want to stretch today. I want to go eat or go sleep. I don’t want to go watch any more film or I don’t want to come back and do extra work when I need to do it.’
“Then it’s like, you know, two months ago if I’d have done that, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Extra work is always something I’ve done, but it’s still in my mind that if I’d have done this, maybe I could have put the ball here, or kicked it there.
“It’s been a fun three years and I’m anxious for the fourth one.”